Decline in sales, increased property taxes behind Walgreens exit, company leadership says
For nearly a year, many residents remained confused about Walgreens decision to close up their only remaining Harvey location.
A decline in sales, foot traffic, and prescription volume, coupled with prescription reimbursement pressures (refunds) and increased property taxes, were a few reasons behind the Walgreens exit from the city’s busy 147th Street and Halsted Street corridor, company officials told the Harvey World Herald.
Walgreens exited from Harvey in March 2021, a decision met with ire from both residents and city officials. The exit left a 1.25 acres vacancy on one of the city’s commercial strips.
Fraser Engerman, the Senior Director of External Relations for Walgreens, said company leadership notified the Mayor’s office and other city officials of an anticipated exit Friday, February 26th, 2021, and the store officially closed the following month.
“We understand this will have an impact on our customers and are making every attempt that customers have access to prescriptions and COVID-19 vaccinations,” said Engerman.
The store was a fixture in the community, operating for more than 30 years. Following the closure of a location on 159th Street and Wood Avenue, it was the only Walgreens left in Harvey. Residents expressed confusion about the exit at the time and for nearly a year have criticized city officials for radio silence regarding details behind the closure.
Files at the Harvey location were automatically transferred to the location in nearby Dolton, and customers received a letter in the mail about how to transfer their prescriptions, said Engerman. He also indicated all 10 team members were offered positions at other locations.
In 2019, Walgreens announced in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission plans to close 200 locations nationwide.
In the summer of 2020, officials watched with alarm as looters tore through Walgreens, a long-time tenant on 147th Street and Halsted. They smashed the store’s windows. Social media images of the damaged Walgreens showed the store boarded up with plywood. The store was temporarily closed for renovations and later reopened mid-June.
The city imposed a curfew in an effort to stop the looting. Alderman Tyrone Rogers (6th) said he was across the street when the looting took place, and believed the looters were not Harvey residents but rather outsiders because their cars did not have license plates.
According to the City of Harvey Facebook page post from June 5, 2020, Mayor Christopher J. Clark spoke with company representatives, who indicated the store would not be shuttered for good as a result of rampant looting.
While commenters praised the decision not to leave following the destruction, some also expressed grievances about the storefront:
“Please instruct Walgreens to make this store safe, and to clean up the lot!! In the past I have avoided this store because of the people there asking for money and begging at the door.”
Another commenter asked for local police to deal with the matter:
“Good to hear now have Harvey police stop people from begging outside.”
The location was also the sight of a police shooting. In the fall of 2020, an Illinois State trooper shot and killed a man during a traffic stop directly in front of the store after an alleged struggle over a firearm. The car crashed into a bus stop directly in front of the Walgreens parking lot. The family of Darren Green, Jr., the man shot, filed a lawsuit against Illinois State Police and troopers alleging Green did not have a firearm and wanted the state trooper criminally charged.
The statewide unemployment rate has declined from 5.7% to 5.3%, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, based on preliminary data from December 2021. But while the state’s fiscal health rebounds, the Walgreens exit adds additional sting to the economic outlook in Harvey — sparking fears that poor, Black, Brown communities will be left behind in the recovery.
The city lags Cook County in employment. About 57% of Harvey residents are employed as compared to 66% in Cook County, according to most recent figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics American Community Survey.
Ald. Rogers (6th), who’s ward the now-empty building sits in, said the location was accessible for many residents who did not have personal vehicles but expressed grievances over the store’s quality and service.
“They treated us like we were substandard,” said Rogers. “When I shopped at other Walgreens locations, it was like being in Beverly Hills, California,” he added. Rogers said cracked floor tiles, poor lighting, and a parking lot that was not routinely paved or striped were persistent issues.
But there is a silver lining: the location is “prime real estate” and is available for a potential tenant.
City officials offered to pay the store’s rent to entice the company to stay, according to Rogers.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Investments have not reached south suburban communities for decades due to structural inequities like barriers to capital and shifts in industries, said Austen Edwards, Senior Policy Analyst at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
“The south suburbs used to be the pillar of manufacturing industries in the region.” While Edwards notes that manufacturing is still one of the region’s major industries, it does not require as many workers as it once did.
Automation has allowed manufacturers to increase productivity, reduce costs, or both.
Market disinvestment fueled public disinvestment, which became a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle, according to Edwards. For policymakers, this means driving economic opportunity to those left at the margins.
“How do we provide the resources, the access to credit and entrepreneurship that these communities can use to build their own businesses and job opportunities?” said Edwards.
For decades, Harvey’s finances took a sharp decline, resulting in massive population decline that shows no signs of slowing. There are now fewer residents in Harvey than there were in 1960.
Once a prospering suburb home to Buda Engine Company, massive deindustrialization swept away jobs — and residents.
The pandemic exacerbated long standing economic inequality across the state. In some ways, many people did not fully recover from the 2008 global economic recession, said Edwards.
It will take several years, according to Edwards, to rebuild and spearhead equitable, inclusive economic growth for those long left out of economic opportunities.
“It took 7 or 8 years from the last recession for many of these families to start seeing the benefits.”
The closure also presents a new pandemic-related challenge: finding KN95 or N95 masks, which many health experts say are more effective at protecting mask-wearers against COVID-19.
The federal government began shipping free masks to participating pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid, as well as community health centers, last week.
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